Monday 23 April 2018

Good Walks and Dirty Dog Walkers

Another great walk this week:

WEDNESDAY APRIL 25TH QUEEEN ELIZABETH PARK, VANCOUVER Leader: John Gordon Time: 9:30 am at the Rose Garden parking lot off 37th Avenue Join John to walk through this beautiful park to admire the different flowers, trees and shrubs and to look for warblers, vireos and other spring migrants that use the park as a stopover on their way to the breeding grounds. Bring your camera and a snack.

Phone 604-533-7171 for info or to let us know to expect you. 

Please Note: anyone wishing to carpool should phone in to make arrangements beforehand, otherwise please meet at the designated meeting place. Please call to let the leader know to expect you. The walks are generally about two to three hours long and are open to all Naturalist Clubs & members of the public (adults & children, but no pets please). Dress for the weather and bring water, binoculars and a snack, plus bug spray in the summer. Note these walks are weather dependent so if the weather is bad and no calls are received then the leader will not show up.

Nora Truman, Secretary
Langley Field Naturalists



Mexico 7 Bonampark

Mexico Feb 21/18

Story Adrian Leather
Photos by John Gordon

Next on the menu was Bonampak. We stayed in a very cool ecolodge in the Lacanja area, more a village surrounded by rainforest, with scattered homes and cabins, ran by a Mayan family. Each cabin was numbered, then had a name in Mayan, and Spanish. The dining room was like a type of longhouse with sections of tree trunk providing the seating. It was neat to hear the staff speaking in Mayan. They were a friendly bunch, very laid-back, and served some excellent food. The Mayan Chief engaged in quiet conversation. The walls had hanging trinkets, maps, and nature info, and I noticed an article pertaining to a Canadian anthropologist. This place was super-tranquil.

We didn't have much luck with our nocturnal birding. Short-tailed Nighthawk was a no-show. We had a Vermiculated Screech-Owl which didn't want to quit, and a Mottled Owl. We heard this strange, loud sound. Someone asked, "What is THAT!?", to which Eric replied, "THAT is a Jaguar!", which certainly caught our attention. We heard the Jaguar numerous times. It was difficult to get a reading on how far away it was. Cool as anything!
John Hodges, and Eric were operating spotlights from each side of the van, when John said, "WHAT is THAT!?". It turned out to be a Kinkaju. By the way, I ought to mention that many of our birding destinations featured Spider Monkey, and Howler Monkey, which provided a lot of great viewing, and listening.

We never went to the ruins @ Bonampak, as the birding on the entrance road was so good! We saw 3 Blue Ground-Dove fly across the trail. 4 Mealy Parrot was a nice find.

Slatey-tailed Trogon
A Slaty-tailed Trogon (Massena) was impressive, and a Tawny-crowned Greenlet was hanging-out near 2 Lesser Greenlet. Northern Schiffornis, and Plain Xenops were spotted. Other good finds were a Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Northern Bentbill, and 2 Long-billed Gnatwren. 2 Lesson's Motmot were watched, and a Rufous Mourner was heard. Birds kept coming thick and fast! 2 Barred Antshrike, 2 Dusky Antbird, and a Great Antshrike were added. We saw another Royal Flycatcher, and had a brief look at a Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher. Manakins also featured, with 2 White-collared, and 2 Red-capped. We enjoyed a nice mix of warblers, including Worm-eating, Chestnut-sided, Golden-crowned, and a beauty of a male Kentucky!

Kentucky Warbler

3 Green Shrike-Vireo were tallied. Among the grosbeaks were 2 Rose-breasted, and a pair of Blue-black! Breathless birding, and another tough place to depart.
We tried an area of the Parque Nacional Palenque where Spot-tailed Nightjar has been located. No luck with the nightjar, but we did encounter a noisy Limpkin, and a Common Pauraque. Other goodies were Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Canivet's Emerald, and Yellow-breasted Chat, but the biggest surprise was seeing 2 Scarlet Macaw on the very outskirts of the town.
Our final day dawned, and we were back @ the Parque Nacional Palenque, and greeted by the weirdest roaring sound. Was it even a bird? Jerry moved toward the sound, and realized it was coming from 2 Bare-throated Tiger-Heron high in a tree.

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

 A Louisiana Waterthrush gave excellent viewing as it bobbed along the shore of a nearby stream. We walked a trail in the park which was a gem of a place. We enjoyed good looks at a Rufous-breasted Spinetail, and a beauty of a Great Antshrike in the trailside scrub. 

Louisiana Waterthrush
Flycatchers included Yellow-bellied, and Acadian. Woodcreepers were Tawny-winged, Wedge-billed, and Ivory-billed. Other goodies included Wood Thrush, and 3 Black-headed Trogon. More than anything, this was a stupendous warbler walk, with fifteen species recorded, including Worm-eating, Hooded, Northern Parula, and with amazing looks @ 2 Blue-winged, a Swainson's, and 2 Kentucky! We joked that we wouldn't need to go to Point Pelee. Another supercharged adrenaline high! No chance of us leaving this trip quietly!

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Sunday 22 April 2018

Herrings and Twitching

April 2018

 Point Roberts USA

April 12 2017

Last week the herring were spawning off Point Roberts. The annual event attracts thousands of seabirds as well as good numbers of seals and the occasional whales. A wonder of nature, the spawning is an important food source for wildlife. Overfished for years the herring fishery is now highly regulated, hopefully stocks will rebound in the future.
The herring lay their sticky eggs on kelp and other aquatic vegetation. A small flock of Sanderlings gorged themselves on the beach, each new wave adding more bounty. 

Sanderling feeding on herring eggs attached to seaweed.
The constant activity overhead was mesmerizing, a birders dreamland. Flocks of Brant flew overhead, thousands of Surf Scoters feasted a few hundred metres offshore.
Brant flying over Surf Scoters

(Below) A raft of Surf Scoters prepare to follow the spawning herring toward the shore.
Surf Scoter inspired by Liron Gertsman

Several years ago I saw an award winning picture by young birder and upcoming nature photographer Liron Gertsman, the image made an indelible impression on me. I was hoping to witness something similar. Although this picture is nowhere near as interesting I am glad I was able to witness the sight for myself.

Surf Scoter
I knew the shot I wanted and because the Surf Scoters were backlit and lighting harsh I went for shape, form and feeling over a more literal presentation. I worked hard to find some simple symmetry in the birds wing patterns while including the rest of the flock in the background to give depth to the image.

A Surf Scoter dives leaving a curtain of water.
Harlequin Duck
 Timid and never coming too close to shore Harlequins are one of my favourite ducks  I waited and waited for something different and eventually the female rose out of the water sending a little spray toward the male. 


Great-tailed Grackle


April 18 2016

I spent the morning looking for the Sage Thrasher at Piper Spit in Burnaby but to no avail.
 I had already made a back-up plan to go for the Great-tailed Grackle on Vancouver at Kennedy and West 4th 
Grackles are common in the southern USA and Mexico and wouldn't normally warrant a glance but in Vancouver it was very twitchable.
There was a full-on twitch when I arrived. The bird had been posing for everyone until the exact moment I arrived when it decided fly off across the street to a block of apartments. Eventually it came back and gave everyone great views.

Once the sighting go out it even made both of the daily newspapers. I include the link below.

Great-tailed Grackle
See below for the Vancouver Sun story

A good "twitch bird" catches and swallows a beetle.

Colony Farm Coquitlam BC

April 20 2018
I barely had time to finish my Honey-Do chores around the garden when news of a Black Phoebe starting filtering on the Inter-web. John Reynolds had found a Black Phoebe at Colony Farm. They are very rare in Metro Vancouver, perhaps only a handful in the past decade. I would be a BC and Metro Vancouver lifer for me.
I picked up my neighbour CAGI and we were soon on the road to yet another twitch, our third of the week. On the way we chatted away, mostly complaining about the price of gas and aches and pains associated with gardening, eventually taking the wrong lane over the Port Mann Bridge and overshooting out destination. After a few choice expletives from the driver (JOGO) we arrived at Colony Farm. We found the birders before the bird, this twitch was even easier than the grackle a few days earlier. Three twitches in three days can't be bad. Too bad I was talking and missed the Sage Thrasher.

Note. Except for sharpening and cropping there is no extra editing. To ensure that the background of the images had no distractions I only shot when the bird was on an unobstructed branch.

When I viewed the bird through the viewfinder. I noticed the back view of the bird showed off the primaries so beautifully.

Secondly I wanted a side shot showing as much detail as possible and below I wanted was a shot with eye contact and finally I ensured that there was a catchlight in all the shots.

Mission accomplished we made sure we found the right overpass and were soon home none the worse for wear.

Finally here are a few of the best links I have found this week;

Amazing Cormorant Fishing

"It's never too late to start twitching"
John Gordon (JOGO)
BC Canada

Monday 16 April 2018

Mexico 6 Palenque to Yaxchilan

Palenque to Yaxchilan Mexico Feb 18/19 2017

Story by Adrian Leather
Photography by John Gordon

Birding Palenque

We crossed the Grijalva River, and were now in Tabasco. Next up was Palenque, in Northern Chiapas, a popular ruin with tourists. We walked along the main road up the hill to the archaeological site, and were rewarded with some fantastic birding! Highlights included 3 Scarlet Macaw, which provided awesome photo ops. We watched 3 Brown-hooded Parrot, 6 White-fronted Parrot, and 2 Olive-throated Parakeet (Aztec). A great find was a Grey-headed Dove, tough to see as it crawled over bushes, and along the ground.

Scarlet Macaw

A Variable Seedeater perched, allowing great views.

Variable Seedeater

Dusky Antbird
Palenque seemed to be the top hummingbird spot, with 2 White-necked Jacobin, 2 Long-billed Hermit, a Stripe-throated Hermit, 2 Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and 2 Buff-bellied Hummingbird. Sparrows seen were Olive, Green-backed, and a striking Orange-billed. 

Orange-billed Sparrow

Warblers included a much sought after Worm-eating! Other nice finds were a Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

Golden-headed Tanager

 We walked the grounds of Palenque, and enjoyed more great birding. A Double-toothed Kite soared above the ruins. Walking a side trail gave us stunning looks at 2 Golden-hooded Tanager! Raptors included 8 Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Bat Falcon, 3 Common Black Hawk, a Roadside Hawk, and Short-tailed Hawk. 35 White-collared Swift provided air support. Woodpeckers included a Golden-olive, 2 Lineated, a Golden-fronted (Velazquez's), and a Black-cheeked, heard. 4 Collared Aracari, a Gartered Trogon, and Black-headed Trogon kept things moving along.

Gartered Trogon

Central American Spider Monkey

 Sometimes on Eric's tours, I've found myself thinking, the birding surely can't keep getting better each day, but it often does. We would return to Palenque on our final day, but for now we had the very exciting prospect of Yaxchilan! Ramon pointed the van south, and we made our way along a fairly tight road that took us through an agricultural valley. In the distance we started to see the mountains of La Selva Lacandona in Guatemala, and the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, memorable scenery.

Yaxchilan Ruins
We stopped at a side trail for some leisurely birding prior to our arrival @ Frontera Corozal. This trail revealed 10 Montezuma Oropendola, 3 Little Tinamou, and a Black-faced Antthrush (Mayan). Seeing tinamous was incredibly exciting, a totally unexpected surprise. We watched them as they crossed the trail, one flying in behind a walking bird, as if to hurry it up.
Grey-headed Tanager

We arrived @ an eco-hotel in Frontera Corozal. On the west side of the Rio Usumacinta, we were in the State of Chiapas, Mexico, and on the east bank, was the Departamento of Peten, Guatemala, and the community of Cooperativa Tecnica Agropecueria. Try saying that after a few cervezas!
Lanchas (river longboats) ferry folks across to Guatemala, and down to Yaxchilan, another famous ruin, and legendary birding hotspot.

 A Scaly-breasted Hummingbird was a great find by the hotel restaurant entrance, and on the river we could see 6 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and egrets flapping around. An introductory burn upriver added Mangrove Swallow, Grey-headed Kite, 2 Grey Hawk, 3 Ringed Kingfisher, a Green Kingfisher, and 2 Red-lored Parrot.

Grey-headed Hawk

Early morning birding Yaxchilan.

Lineated Woodpecker

Yaxchilan is a magical place! A few local guides joined us, and one of them brought excellent food along. I heard Eric ask where the food came from? One of the guys informed his mother made it, and Eric replied that he was moving to his place.

The small garden behind the entrance building was an excellent spot for drawing birds in from the jungle. We enjoyed watching a pair of Dusky Antbird, and a pair of Dot-winged Antwren. Other goodies were a Barred Antshrike, and Russet Antshrike, and we cleaned-up on antshrikes with a Great Antshrike in the front 'yard'.

Great Antshrike

Dot-winged Antwren

We entered the ruins via a building with roosting bats. The beauty of the buildings, the grounds, and the riverside location, combine to make a really wonderful ambience. A Little Tinamou was heard, and 6 Plain Chachalaca made their predictable racket. An Ornate Hawk-Eagle sailed over. A male Lovely Cotinga showed briefly, feeding high atop a fruiting tree, and Eric hoped we could relocate it. A Northern Schiffornis showed well. Hummers included a Purple-crowned Fairy, and a Long-billed Starthroat, which dug deeply into some trumpet-shaped flowers.

Long-billed Starthroat

A guy walked by and said, "Oh, here they are, it's the professionals, the birdwatchers are here!" With species such as White-whiskered and White-necked Puffbird making the list, I think we'd have laughed at anything.

White-Whiskered Puffbird
We added Baltimore Oriole, Green Shrike-Vireo, Tropical Pewee, 2 Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and 2 Mealy Parrot. A Pale-billed Woodpecker was heard, and we enjoyed watching a Lineated Woodpecker visiting its nest hole. We saw a Black-cheeked Woodpecker. A Rufous-breasted Spinetail was a good find.

Wood Thrush

We walked to the airfield by the Usumacinta, perhaps the most uneven airstrip I've seen, though with neatly manicured grass. Something caught Ed's attention by the river so we moved in that direction. Eric had placed his scope by some nearby houses, and he suddenly beckoned us. I raced across the airstrip and was rewarded with three or four seconds worth of a beautiful Royal Flycatcher!

Royal Flycatcher

 Although the bird led us on a bit of a dance, we did get eyes on it again. Perhaps the best of the best was seeing 3 White-collared Manakin, two males looking absolutely mesmerizing, as they snapped their wings. Lots of "oohs" and "ahs" for these guys! A sensational day of birding, and it wasn't quite over.

White-collared Manakin

An owling session on Sendero Garganta, a little downriver from Yaxchilan, provided superb looks at a Vermiculated Screech-Owl, and we also heard a Black-and-White Owl.

Vermiculated Screech-Owl

The following day, we were venturing further along the river, passing Yaxchilan, in search of King Vulture. As we boarded the lanchas, we noted there were now 10 Yellow-crowned Night-Heron perched on some rocks, mid-river.
We spotted a White Hawk in Guatemala, and decided to go ashore. As the crew walked up the bank, they flushed an Iguana, which sprinted down toward the river, zigzag style. Ed carved the word "Quesnel" in the Guatemalan sand.

Howler Monkey

We continued along the river. We added Great Black Hawk, and another White Hawk, this one following a ridge on the Mexico side. 3 Collared Aracari, and 4 Keel-billed Toucan were watched. We stopped the lanchas by the big fruiting tree @ Yaxchilan, and yet again, a Lovely Cotinga was seen, but all too briefly. King Vulture appeared to be eluding us, until we turned around and headed back. The sky had been relatively devoid of raptors, but as the temperature warmed, we noticed some vultures soaring, two groups of three, and best of all, each group contained a King Vulture! They didn't move much closer so we had to be satisfied with the distant black and white.

White-necked Jacobin

Eric was determined to get decent looks at Lovely Cotinga so we returned to Yaxchilan. The birds were actively feeding, and moving around. There were other species in the canopy, and we were suffering from warbler-neck, so it was tough. A number of times, Eric had a cotinga in the scope, then it was gone. We eventually enjoyed a nice scope view of a female Lovely Cotinga.
A Stub-tailed Spadebill was seen, and we added 2 Red-legged Honeycreeper, and Green Honeycreeper. Ed spotted a male Red-capped Manakin, and it very conveniently flew down to some trees nearby, a dream for the photographers. A big wow moment! We showed this to a few English gals who we were chatting with, and they seemed suitably impressed.

Red-capped Manakin.

 It felt a little odd talking about Shropshire while birding in the Lacandona Jungle. 4 Black-faced Grosbeak were noted, as was a Blue-grey Tanager, and 5 Golden-hooded Tanager lit the place up even more. Some patient birding was rewarded with good looks at 2 Black-faced Antthrush, which crawled secretively along the ground, as a Central American Pygmy-Owl provided backing vocals. Yaxchilan was another tough place to leave!

We couldn't leave the area without sneaking up a small channel into Guatemala. 

Our cunning plan was somewhat restricted by an enormous fallen tree, but we still tallied around 20 species on this Guatemala side-trip, our two lanchas crawling along carefully. 60 Black-bellied Whistling Duck went over, and flew into Mexico. Along the channel edge we watched 2 Louisiana Waterthrush. Others which made the Guatemala list included White-eyed Vireo, Squirrel Cuckoo, and Green Kingfisher. The real highlight was extended views of an exquisite pair of American Pygmy Kingfisher!

American Pygmy Kingfisher

 We had to laugh when a Yellow-breasted Chat worked its way down a vine behind one of the kingfishers! How cool is that!? Things got even better with 2 Rufous-breasted Spinetail. I made a joke about encountering the Guatemala Border Patrol, and Eric replied, "You know, you're right. I never really thought about it like that!".
What a time we had along the Usumacinta, blasting along in our lanchas, the wind in our faces, birding dreams becoming reality, and a definite sense of high adventure about the whole thing.

"It's never too late to go s birding adventure"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Sunday 15 April 2018

Bound for Palenque (Mexico Part 5)

Now we faced a long drive south, before skirting the northern border of Belize, and turning west toward Tabasco, bound for Palenque in Northern Chiapas. Some birders tried to get some sleep, others watched life go on in the towns and villages along the way, and a few diehards even called-out the odd bird.
Ramon pulled the van over @ Laguna Silvituc. With no parking lot, we had to be very careful crossing the busy road here. 10 Snail Kite were on patrol. 3 Anhinga were watched. A White-collared Seedeater popped-up, and we noted 6 Purple, and 3 Common Gallinule.

Snail Kite

We continued along Route 186. Eric started to scan some fields, part of the Usumacinta Marshes. We were in Campeche, but very close to the Tabasco border. A shout went up, "Jabiru!", then everything went mad! Ramon saw a spot where he could pull-in off the road.

 As we completed our turn, a guy was walking toward us, with a horse. This was Jose, the ranch manager, who welcomed us to look around. Of course, we were already doing that! Jose thought it a good idea to clap his hands to flush birds. As he clapped, thousands of Blue-winged Teal flushed. 40 Black-bellied Whistling Duck, and 100 Fulvous Whistling Duck were well seen. 100 Wood Stork were nonchalantly flying around 11 Jabiru! 2 Bare-throated Tiger-Heron added to the excitement, and Grassland Yellow Finch flushed from the trail.

Thousands of Blue-winged Duck take to the air.

Grassland Yellowfinch

This was magical birding and you could hardly put your bins down. 480 Cattle Egret were tallied. Herons were everywhere. 12 Roseate Spoonbill added their colourful hues to proceedings. 105 White Ibis were counted. 40 Northern Jacana made the list.

White Ibis

A Ruddy Crake, and Sora were heard. 5 Fork-tailed Flycatcher looked resplendent, like exotic tree decorations, as they adjusted their positions to allow for the gentle breeze.

Fork-tail Flycatcher.
Just beautiful! 100 Bronzed Cowbird were added. All this activity had to generate attention from raptors. We enjoyed the majestic looks of 2 Black-collared Hawk, and watched 2 Peregrine Falcon, a Crested Caracara, Great Black Hawk, and a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture. I should mention that most places visited had a sky full of Turkey, and Black Vulture, so it was nice to study a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture at close quarters. Rancho El Cuyo was a massive adrenaline high, and was tough to leave.

We said our farewells to Jose, who agreed to be photographed with his horse, posing by a tree. On the other side of the 186, the rays of the setting sun streamed down, steam rising from the pasture to bathe the horses in a golden light, a fitting way to end our travels in Campeche.

"It's never too late to start $$$$$ overseas birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada